KIGALI: President Uhuru Kenyatta will tomorrow, Monday, 27th June, co-chair the second United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon with his Portugal counterpart Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and UN Secretary General António Guterres.
The conference, which is being co-hosted by Portugal and Kenya was initially scheduled for the year 2020 but was postponed to this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, is aimed at accelerating the adoption of science-based innovative solutions to challenges facing oceans and the global marine ecosystem.
Speaking ahead of the Kenyan Head of State’s arrival in Lisbon, Kenya’s ambassador to Portugal, Prof Judi Wakhungu revealed that besides the UN meeting, President Uhuru Kenyatta will pay a two-day state visit to the Portuguese Republic on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Our two Heads of State will be presiding over the high-level opening of the ocean conference together with the UN Secretary General.”
“This is very special. It is historic because this is the first time in history that a Kenyan Head of State has been recognized by our hosts, the Republic of Portugal,” Prof Wakhungu said in reference to the two-day state visit.
Ambassador Wakhungu said that despite the global meeting having been postponed twice in the past due to Covid-19, Kenya and Portugal were ready to co-host a successful 2022 UN Ocean Conference. The two countries were declared hosts for the conference after the 2017 inaugural UN Ocean Conference co-hosted by Fiji and Sweden in New York.
“I must applaud Portugal and Kenya for staying the course, for their tenacity and finally hosting this important meeting,” Prof Wakhungu, who also serves as Kenya’s envoy to France, Serbia, Vatican City and Monaco, said.
Oceans cover up to 70 percent of the earth’s surface and are home to over 80 percent of all life in the world. They generate 50 percent of oxygen needed by humans, absorb 25 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, and capture 90 percent of heat generated from anthropogenic activities.
As such, Prof Wakhungu said oceans are a key aspect of human life, emphasizing the importance of the conference not only to Kenya but to the world especially now that humanity is increasingly facing the negative impacts of climate change.
“The conference is focusing mostly on the Sustainable Development Goal 14. All the Sustainable Development Goals are connected, but 14 deals specifically with the oceans…Over 70 percent of the earth is the ocean. We sometimes take this for granted but it is indeed very important,” Prof Wakhungu said, adding that 30 out of the 54 African countries are maritime nations. Globally, there are 83 maritime nations.
Ambassador Wakhungu said Kenya had priotised blue economy as a key driver of her socioeconomic transformation agenda, adding that the conference builds on the successes of the inaugural UN Sustainable Blue Economy Conference held in Nairobi in 2018.
“Kenya registered its intention that blue economy must be part and parcel of our livelihoods. We must protect our marine life, marine security is important to Kenya,” Prof Wakhungu said.
She added: “Our maritime training must be enhanced. Most importantly, we need to protect our oceans from illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing which has continued to be a dearth in our marine ecosystems. But also very importantly, from an environmental point of view, we must expand our marine protected areas”.
Prof Wakhungu said Kenya was globally renowned for its green strategy which she said the country was expanding to include blue economy so as to broaden its sustainable development agenda.
“We are now combining the green and the blue. We signified our intent to elevate the blue economy strategy to global standards when our President, His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta hosted the 2018 UN Sustainable Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi,” she said.
On the two-day state visit, Prof Wakhungu said President Kenyatta will lead a Kenyan delegation for bilateral talks with their Portuguese hosts during which several agreements will be reached and signed in areas such as tourism, education and training, commerce, culture, transport and communication.
“At the same time we shall also promote trade and investment between Kenya and Portugal. Our two countries have continued to enhance and enrich their bilateral relations,” Prof Wakhungu said.